Yuqian Li | Staying grounded without concrete plans
Spirit of Adventure | Don’t forget that not everyone has it figured out by 22
July 8, 2014, 6:29 pm · Updated July 15, 2014, 6:52 pm·
Once in a while, my mom would receive sporadic texts and phone calls from her worrisome daughter stressing about the future. Those unexpected phone calls often consisted of me telling her how I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, how I thought I was already considered behind on some professional routes and how I thought it was unfair a person could only choose one path in life. She often comforted me by reassuring me of her support in whatever decision I chose to make. I don’t remember her exact words most of the time except for one December night when she replied with, “When I was your age, all I wanted to do was spend time with your dad. I think you will be fine in life.” I haven’t consulted her much for career advice since.
Recently, however, I received another text from my mom asking feedback on the logo for the new professional coaching practice she’s starting. While I texted her my top picks, I couldn’t help but remember how far she had come in order to finally be able to do what she loved. After getting her bachelor’s, she obtained a graduate degree in management in China. Afterwards, she decided to take the rigorous testing needed to study abroad in the United States. She completed her Ph.D. in chemical engineering, after which she decided to leave the field completely and work as an analyst at a bank.
Nowadays, she still holds her analyst job but devotes most of her time pursuing her career as a personal development coach: someone who helps working professionals become happier and more productive in the office. People sometimes dismiss her attempts at a career change, questioning how someone can take a couple of classes and suddenly become a professional when her engineering degree took years of work, but she says this was what she was meant to do — helping people realize their potential in whatever they do.
I often questioned why she stuck with engineering when she knew it wasn’t right for her. She said if she hadn’t, she probably wouldn’t have been able to come to the United States and have the same opportunities she has today. She tells me sometimes in order to get to a place you can really thrive at and allow it to challenge you, you must do things that you don’t necessarily like. That’s something I’ve taken with me throughout any difficulties I’ve encountered.
One recent night, my housemates and I sat around the kitchen and talked about our plans after college. A friend of mine brought up the ways people change — socially and professionally — in and out of college. He introduced a common trend in which people leave a professional path when they experience internal change or find a path that leads to greater fulfillment. It takes different people different amounts of time to experience that personal growth or find an alternative route, but most of the time, when people stay true to themselves, their life paths will align with what they value. For my mom, it was not easy and took her longer than others, but she says the depth of understanding required of a chemical engineer allowed her to become a better analyst, and her professional experience led her to become a better coach.
Back in freshman year, a good friend of mine talked about how he would always try to change himself by targeting his weaknesses and working to overcome them in order to become a more well-rounded person. His advice stuck with me, and to this day, I try to challenge myself in new ways. Whether that will lead to big or small changes is up to me to decide, but I know I will always be progressing.
Ultimately, I realized it’s OK if I don’t have a definite career goal or a plan to get there. There are many paths to the same end, and one detour here or there is not the apocalypse. But since life is about accumulating different experiences, the more unfamiliar situations I put myself in and the more skills I learn, the more fulfilling and exciting it will be. If my mom could do what she did without much worry during her undergraduate years, I’m sure I will be able to as well.
Yuqian Li is a College junior from Lexington, Mass., studying economics and political science. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.